Sunday, 3 February 2013

1000 Miles in a Rob Roy Canoe - book review

1000 miles in a Rob Roy Canoe
by J MacGregor
February 2013
I cant remember how I came across this book, it must have been via a link in some on line research. Strangely, I never went out and found a copy but instead found an on line version which was free to read and, over the last few weeks have leafed through its 15 chapters - usually a chapter a day during whilst eating my lunch at work.

It was written by John MacGregor in 1866 and is an account of his four month, 1000 mile solo tour of waterways of France, Germany and Switzerland, making use of new fangled railways to bridge the watersheds. MacGregor designed and built his hybrid sailing canoe, naming it after a distant relative who was the famous outlaw.

The book, or maybe more accurately a journal, is at time immensely readable and at others seriously tedious - so be ready for a bit of paragraph hopping here and there. It's written in a slightly surreal Victorian style unique to an Engishman abroad, taking an almost imperialist outlook on those he encounters but at the same time recording in minute detail where he left his canoe for the night and what he had for dinner!

But amidst the somewhat pompous bigotry and banal detail there is an account of a really fascinating trip. Even now after 150 years, its easy to see why it was a best seller of its time. His readership was huge and varied, with word of his trip being so noteworthy that crowds gathered to cheer his passing. His work was so influential that even the great Robert Louis Stevenson built his own Rob Roy and set out in his wake.

I am a great enthusiast for historical travelogues and for all its literary failings, this sits up there witht he best of them. Maybe not one to read from cover to cover but the long deceased Mr MacGregor will be sorely missed as my lunchtime companion.

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